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President Trump on Tuesday defended his controversial decision to end an Obama-era program shielding undocumented immigrants from deportation while calling on Congress to address their status.
In a lengthy written statement, Trump said he is giving lawmakers “a window of opportunity … to finally act” by winding down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the next six months.
“As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process,” Trump said.
"It is now time for Congress to act!"
Trump also said any immigration proposal must provide “enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve.”
“We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans,” he said.
The president said that the more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. under DACA will not become priorities for deportation, but he did not rule out that many could be ordered to leave the country.
“Our enforcement priorities remain unchanged,” Trump said. “I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang.”
Trump did not endorse a specific legislative proposal to address the status of DACA recipients or others who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
The president noted, "legislation offering these same benefits had been introduced in Congress on numerous occasions and rejected each time," an apparent reference to the long-stalled DREAM Act, which was first introduced in 2001 by Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats face critical 72 hours Bipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill Manchin: Negotiators to miss Friday target for deal on reconciliation bill MORE (D-Ill.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah).
Trump did plug a bill written by two GOP senators that would overhaul the visa system and dramatically cut the number of immigrants admitted to the U.S. legally.
Speculation has swirled that Trump could seek a grand bargain including that measure, funding for his proposed wall along the Mexican border and a solution for DACA recipients. But Democrats have rejected such a proposal as a non-starter.